Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Visuals – Cut to the Chase

The importance of visuals in presenting your case to the jury is well known, and increasingly trumpeted, as ours becomes a society of glowing screens, large and small. As you decide which visuals, what part of the story they are to tell, and how best to design your visuals accordingly, one aspect is often missed: pace.
It’s easy to forget pace in your ardent desire to communicate as much as you can with the assist of visuals. But here’s the thing: look at any primetime dramatic TV show, and you’ll quickly realize that images succeed each other at lightening speed until a dramatic moment requires everything to slow down, so the audience can absorb this critical sequence. Then the pace picks up again.

So too with your visuals. Cut to the chase. Make your visuals easy to see, uncluttered, highlighting one important fact or bit of testimony, so that the jurors aren’t hunting through your visual for that important fact, having to parse through lots of relatively less important items. The pace of presenting such clear visuals can be quick, because that’s what jurors are used to from the media. Then, when you hit that one piece of evidence critical to your case, you can slow down and take your time with it.

The jurors, having not been bored or confused with your set-up or establishing visuals, will be better able and willing to give their full attention to the crux of your case.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Juror’s Search for Understanding Bumps Her Off Panel

Recently, a juror in the Ronald Woodard murder trial was removed from the panel after she brought to court a glossary of legal terms she found online. Throughout the trial Jackson County Circuit Judge John McBain had cautioned jurors not to research or read anything in relation to the case, not even to look up a term in the dictionary.

What is wrong with this picture? Why should the juror be penalized for something that is essentially the lawyers' failing – for whatever reason – to do their job in regards to the jurors? Perhaps the lawyers indeed defined their terms adequately in this case, and the juror was being compulsive, but in truth, I have found repeatedly that lawyers forget how much of their communication is legalese, and how many words have a different meaning in ordinary conversation.

Take negligence, for example. To many lay persons, being negligent has an aspect of deliberateness about it. You know you should put your seat belt on, but you don’t, you’re negligent. So if the surgeon didn’t mean to leave the sponge in the person, it’s probably not negligence. Another example: Lawyers refer to memorializing things. To a lay person, that often means some kind of memorial was created, like a statue or special edict. To opine is frequently confused with “to pine” as in “lament.” I could go on . . .

Bottom line: define your terms, use words your fifteen year old can easily understand and use in a sentence. The jurors will not only thank you for it, they’re more likely to favor your interpretation of the case. After all, it’s the one they understood.